The AI Art Corner
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The AI Art Corner

EVA: Entanglements of Humans, Machines, and Nature

“EVA was born like a mystical piece of jazz.” — Domenico Barra

[Fig.1] “EVA” (2021) on show at “The Ethereal Aether” by the State Hermitage Museum

“EVA” (2021) is a digital art project that starts from an artistic representation of the human DNA to create and reflect on the generative code of a work of art. It is the result of an intense collaboration that brought together glitch artist Domenico Barra, generative artist Massimo Franceschet, 3D artist Roberto Ranon, and Alberto Policriti who is Full Professor of Computer Science at the University of Udine (Italy) and an expert in Bioinformatics.

The piece invites the audience to experience with an open mind the deep interconnection that occurs between humans, machines and nature. Discussed in detail in the essay entitled “Eva — A mitochondrial story” by artist and academic Franceschet, the artwork was part of “The Ethereal Aether”, the first virtual exhibition organized at the end of 2021 by the State Hermitage Museum and curated by Anastasia Garnova and Dimitri Ozerkov. The one-of-a-kind exhibition showcased the work of several artists who move between the digital and the blockchain space, proposing a contextualization of cryptography and NFTs in a historical and philosophical framework.

EVA, which is a work that has a strictly scientific foundations, reveals a skillful use of 3D, generative code and glitches to create striking visuals that materialize the theme of biological functionality and mutation, while creating a bridge between art and science, and between the human code and that of a generative work of art. Construction and deconstruction follow each other to bring to life a narrative that respects the scientific component without neglecting the artistic element. Nature becomes the basis of the storytelling as well as the glue element between man and machine, revealing that human and artificial agents are not in contrast or separate as we might think.

The project consists of three videos lasting 60 seconds each. Each of them is named after the first nucleotide of mitochondrial DNA. “Eva - A mitochondrial story” is available on the OpenSea marketplace as an NFT (or Non-Fungible Token) at this link.

I contacted the artists to discuss the project in more depth. Our exchange took place via email in January.

[Beth Jochim]: EVA opens a dialogue among science, computation and nature. How did this idea come about and for what purposes?

[The Artists]: EVA is a generative art project that stems from the idea of representing the genetic code (DNA) in an artistic way. The DNA represents the code of every living being; this code was the inspiration to write another code — programmable — that generated the artwork. Man, machine and nature merge and collaborate in this artistic project. The purpose was an effective collaboration between science and art and a blending between genetic code and programming code.

[Video 1] “Eva — ATCACC” (2021), Credits: Domenico Barra, Massimo Franceschet, Roberto Ranon, Alberto Policriti

[Beth Jochim]: How did your collaboration take place? How did the different artistic disciplines relate to each other?

[The Artists]: The idea of blending 3D, Glitch and Generative code came quite naturally because of our personal skills — Massimo, aka hex6c, is a generative artist, Domenico, aka altered_data, is a glitch artist, and Roberto has been working for years with 3D graphics. We used generative code to build different 3D structures and writings starting from the mitochondrial DNA sequence (notice that also the sound was generated from the DNA), and glitch was used to deconstruct those structures, and give a more analog, human feel to the final result. In a sense, generative code represents the perfect functioning of biological machines, while glitch represents mutation, without which we would be stuck forever.

[Video 2] “Eva — AGGTCT” (2021), Credits: Domenico Barra, Massimo Franceschet, Roberto Ranon, Alberto Policriti

[Beth Jochim]: What were the most interesting and difficult moments during the creation of EVA from a narrative and technical point of view?

[The Artists]: The most powerful moments were for sure our first meetings on Zoom. A true storm of ideas took place during those evening calls and we all felt very inspired. Imagine four musicians meeting in a recording studio for the first time, each one of them with their instrument. They start to play, tuning in, following each other’s reef, jamming to the same groove. We started to draft the first notes on the pentagram: “Codice. Codifica. Gene. Genetica. Generativa. Glitch. Rumore. Manipolazione. Alterazione. Evoluzione.” Those words started to play in our minds with rhythms. We sang a tune and EVA started to appear in front of our eyes, piece by piece, note by note, word by word, code by code. We programmed the artwork with our sight and our thoughts. Our project carried infinite details, every part of the video had minimal, but peculiar graphic qualities and the most challenging part was to keep those features, managing at the same time to fit it into the limited space allowed by the minting platform. This was probably the most difficult part as we had to make some choices that did demand to sacrifice a bit of the pictorial efforts we strove for. In the end, we managed to find a good balance among the codes, bit rates, and formats we tested. EVA was born like a mystical piece of jazz.

[Beth Jochim]: In EVA scientific knowledge meets the language of art. What conversations can be fostered through projects like EVA, and how could the fields of art and science benefit from each other?

[The Artists]: Science and Art have a lot in common. For example, both the artist and the scientist, in their similar struggle to personally approach a project, cannot count on previous works. They are alone. The result of their effort must be somehow new and original, while the novelty should be only a minimal ingredient in the piece they produce. The possibility of appreciating the final result with respect to a pre-existing “social” landscape is another equally important ingredient. This aspect is also common ground for the artist and the scientist.

[Video 3] “Eva —GATCAC” (2021), Credits: Domenico Barra, Massimo Franceschet, Roberto Ranon, Alberto Policriti

In our work we have tried to use scientific results and knowledge as a canvas as well as a stimulus. A new discipline such as genomics is revolutionizing the way we look at ourselves and generating data as a form of profound and mysterious description of who we are. This gave us a new, original and intriguing point of view on our history as human beings. In this sense, the visualization of a specific piece of genetic code, a very special and evocative one, is more than a line: it is a bridge between two different ways of looking at oneself.

About the Author: Beth Jochim works at the intersection of Technology and Art, focusing on Creative AI, Crypto Art, and emerging technologies. She is the Creative AI Lead at Libre AI.




A blog about the intersection of Contemporary Art and Technology

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Beth Jochim

Beth Jochim

I write about the intersection of Contemporary Art and Technology, focusing on AI Art, Creative AI, and Crypto Art. I am the Creative AI Lead at Libre AI.

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